01 October 2009

Monastery Jovan Bigorski in flames, damages 5.5m EUR

Saint John the Forerunner Bigorski monastery.
Initial reports say that a failure of power, gas installation is the cause for the fire that broke out early Wednesday in 'St. Jovan Bigorski' Monastery. Blazes started with the kitchen spreading to the dining room and the library. There are no casualties or injured people. The investigation is underway, the Interior Ministry say, excluding human error as a cause of the fire. The National Conservation Center estimates the damage to be at EUR 5,5 million plus items of priceless historic, cultural value. There are announcements for setting up a special body that will coordinate activities for the monastery's restoration. The Government will discuss on this matter at its next session and earmark funds to that effect, said Valentina Bozinovska, chairperson of the Commission for Relations with the Religious Communities and Groups. Head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) HH Stefan, President Gjorge Ivanov and governmental officials visited Wednesday the monastery "St.Jovan Bigorski", which suffered serious damage as the old part of the construction has burnt to the ground in a fire that broke out early today. They expressed deep regret over the wasted historic and cultural treasury, saying that the monastery complex would be soon restored.
Fortunately none of the monks and guests present in the monastery in the time of the accident were not hurt, HH Stefan said. It also refers to the iconostasis and monastery church, which were rescued from blazes thanking to monks and villagers who along with firefighters arrived to the accident venue on time, the MPC Head said. He expects for the monastery's restoration to commence soon, saying than now efforts should be invested in preserving of the building's authenticity, not in debates on the accident's cause. Nevertheless, this accident is a serious warning to all about how much we care for everything that predecessors made and left us with a lot of faith and love, HH Stefan said.
The monastery is under state's aegis and it will its best for restoring "St. Jovan Bigorski". - Unfortunately, the blaze burnt down valuable books of the monastery's library, but thanking to monks all icons are preserved - a treasury that will remain for future generations. The damage is estimated at EUR 5,5 million. The loss of archives and documents is however immeasurable, President Ivanov said.
The monastery is of great significance for the country and the Government, as ever, will grant support for its reconstruction, Culture Minister Elizabeta Kanceska Milevska said. Labor, Social Policy Minister Xhelal Bajrami called on all citizens of Macedonia, regardless of their religious affiliation, to join the monastery's reconstruction.
St. Jovan Bigorski monastery is dedicated to St. Jovan Krstitel (Saint John the Baptist). It is located on the road between Gostivar and Debar, at a the beautiful valley of the river Radika among the villages of Rostushe, Velebrdo, Bitushe and Trebishta. The monastery is named Bigorski, because it is made of tufa (tufa in Macedonian is called Bigor). The monastery complex is comprised of church, ossuary located next to the church, seymen defense tower, mansions complex, as well as a newly built guest mansion. It is mentioned in the monastery files that the Monarch Jovan started building it in the year of 1020 and when the monastery was attacked by the Turks in the XVIth century, only a small church remained. The rebuilding of the Monastery started in year of 1743 by monk Ilarion who is the first igumen at the 'Bigorski Monastery'.
The monastery is also famous for the iconostasis - the most beautiful one in Macedonia. It is done in tiny woodcarving by the magic hands of Petre Filipov - Garkata from the village of Gari. Petre Filipov - Garkata, his brother Marko, Makrarij Frckovski from the village of Galicnik and Avram Dicov with his sons Vasil and Filip from the village Osoj, in 1829 to 1835 managed to create an extraordinary work of art.
The iconostasis is divided into six horizontal belts. The first one's base is comprised of rectangular fields on which there are ornaments of flora and fauna. The second belt, where throne (big and non-movable) icons are placed, finishes with a figure of an eagle with spread wings. The third belt is divided into three smaller horizontal compartments where symmetrically distributed angels, grapes and vineyard sprouts are presented.
There are two rows of icons- festive (icons that are being taken out for festivities) and icons with presentation of angels above them. In the central part there is the large cross with the Crucifixion of Christ. From both sides of the cross there are figures of dragon from whose mouth the icons of St. Jovan and Holy Mother of God are lifted. The presentation of the dancer Salome is particularly interesting, she is dressed in a traditional Miyak costume.
The monastery is also famous for the icon of 'St. Jovan Bigorski', which is believed to have a mysterious power. The icon was found by the monarch Jovan in the year of 1020, on the same place where the monastery was built later on, and it was floating over the river Radika. In the XVIth century, under the Turkish ruler Selim II, Turks burned the monastery and the icon mysteriously disappeared and returned later, again un-harmed, to the same place.
The Icon of St. Jovan Bigorski had not been protected for 35 years and finally in the year of 1885 it was framed in silver (it is written in the monastery record files). Jovan Krstitel (John the Baptist) is represented in the icon as a three- handed Saint. It is believed that the third hand is blessed, and also helps families who can't have children.
There is a story about this legend, saying that a Beg (Bey) from Albania who couldn't have children, came to the monastery in the XVIth century to worship the Icon. Next Year he had a son, and he donated all his property to "Sv. Jovan" (St. John). He promised that he would send olive oil to the monastery (he was producing olive oil). The old mansions with the spacious wooden balconies and the dining room furnished as in the time of the construction, late XVIIth and early XlXth century, add to the monastery's ambient. Today four monks and three novices are forming the brotherhood of this monastery. Their abbot, Archmandrite Parthenius, has learnt the basics of the monastic life at the Holy Mount of Athos.

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